Lesniak Housing Kill Is Unconstitutional

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STATE — An Office of Legislative Services (OLS) analysis has found that if enacted, Sen. Raymond Lesniak’s much-criticized bill to abolish the state’s affordable housing program would likely be ruled unconstitutional.

OLS, the Legislature’s official, non-partisan advisory agency, issued a letter that states: “The absence of a nexus between the mandatory inclusionary zoning proposed by the bill and satisfaction of regional and Statewide affordable housing needs would permit a challenge to the sufficiency of the bill under the Mount Laurel doctrine.”

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In plain language, that means that the bill, S-1, would not actually meet New Jersey’s need for homes affordable to a wide range of people.

The letter says Lesniak’s bill would give wealthy towns the right to exclude and set land use regulations to favor special interests, not the general good of the state.

The OLS letter raises the specter of years of costly litigation for both municipalities and the state government with unpredictable results.

That litigation could impede New Jersey’s economic recovery, as over $6 billion in planned construction of starter homes, homes for people with special needs, and apartments could be delayed.

Lesniak is essentially saying, by continuing to push this bill, that municipalities having the right to exclude is more important than creating new homes and jobs, according to Kevin D. Walsh, the Fair Share Housing Center’s associate director.

“New Jersey has built more affordable housing per capita in high-opportunity communities near great schools and good jobs than any other state in the nation thanks in large part to the Mount Laurel Doctrine,” said Walsh. “This landmark case prohibits towns from discriminating against the poor through exclusionary zoning.”

Walsh said the OLS letter also contradicts Lesniak’s promise at a February Senate Economic Growth Committee hearing that S-1 would be constitutional.

The analysis came out before Lesniak’s latest changes, which replace all housing obligations with $10,000 grants for home improvements, raising further constitutional issues, according to Walsh.

“Lesniak intends to press for a Senate vote on June 10 on this flawed, unconstitutional plan,” said Walsh. “His logic appears to be that the state needs to do something about housing, and here’s something, so let’s do it — even though many other groups, ours included, have put out alternative, constitutional plans for state housing policy.”

“Lesniak’s path on S-1 is one sure to lead to lawsuits and further frustration,” said Walsh. “What we need instead is an effective housing policy that helps our economy, rewards the towns that have done their fair share, and stops exclusion by towns that have not.”


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